By Linda Summers, Washington County Master Gardener
For many people, the month of August signals the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. It can also mean that your summer gardens have finished their maximum production and you may be looking at literally putting your garden beds to rest. However, the cooler temperatures of fall promise some relief for cool-weather crops, and you may wish to consider growing these suggested plants in your fall gardens.
Vegetables such as beets, carrots, turnips, radishes, and kohlrabi grow well, but also consider spinach, lettuce, broccoli, or Chinese cabbage, to name just a few. The important factor to consider here in Southern Illinois counties is the average first-frost date and this can vary widely by area. There is a 20 to 30 percent chance of frost by October 15, while by the end of October, there is a 60 to 70 percent chance of frost.
Select plants that are semi-hardy or hardy that won’t be harmed by light frost or mild freezing and plant your vegetables at least four to six weeks before the final frost date. Many gardeners plant their fall gardens during the early weeks of August. A few suggestions of vegetables to plant in your fall garden include the following.
Spinach. Most varieties of spinach (Spinacia oleracea) require cool weather so it must be grown in the spring or fall. Hot weather causes them to bolt or blossom and form seeds and the leaves can taste bitter. Spinach varieties can be smooth-leaved or crinkle-leaved (savoy) and the seeds can be successively planted to ensure continuous production. The seeds are typically planted one half inch deep in rows 12 to 18 inches apart. As the seeds come up, thin plants to three inches apart and keep in mind that the pulled plants are edible. Harvest the leaves when they are six to eight inches long by cutting the plant at the soil surface. A gardening resource recommended inter-planting radishes in every row to distract leaf miners from eating the spinach leaves. Leaf miners might eat the radish leaves, but they won’t hurt the actual radish crop. Spinach likes a cooler, moister soil. Remember to water if the weather remains warm and dry this fall.
Brussels Sprouts. Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea gemmifera) belong to the same family as cabbage. Brussels sprouts favor cool weather and each plant that grows about 2 and a half feet tall can produce many sprouts resembling miniature cabbages. This plant is very resistant to cold and some of the best-tasting sprouts mature after the first fall frost. As with spinach, Brussels sprouts prefer a slightly acid soil. To reduce the risk of some diseases, avoid planting Brussels sprouts in the same spot where other relatives of the cabbage family have been. Brussels sprouts can be grown from seed by planting three or four seeds in a spot, one-quarter of an inch deep, and 18 inches from the next spot. Rows need to be about three feet apart. When the seedlings are about an inch tall, thin out all but one of the strongest plants in each spot. Sprouts are ready to be picked about four months after the seeds are sown.
Beets. Beets (Beta vulgaris) are another cool-weather biennial that are grown for both their edible, globular root, and their reddish green, leafy tops. Beets are not harmed by spring or fall frosts. Beets come in different varieties, with roots not necessarily red but also yellow or white, or even striped. Some varieties can be harvested 55 to 60 days after the seeds are sown. Roots can become tough in hot weather, so start successive plantings in the early fall. Beet seeds should be planted about one half inch deep, one to two inches apart, in rows 12 to 18 inches apart. As with other vegetables, you will have to thin out the edible seedlings to three to four inches apart, keeping the strongest plant in each group. It is also recommended that you not plant beets in the same spot where you have previously grown spinach or Swiss chard.
Each of these vegetables offers nutritional value to families, in addition to the economic, educational and recreational values of growing a fall garden. For additional information on plants for fall gardens, please contact your local University of Illinois Extension Office or any Master Gardener in your area.